I remember hanging up the phone. The lawyer had told me there really wasn’t anything he could do. Someone I cared about deeply had been lied about and slandered. Instead of finding the truth, their employer took the easy route and fired them. I asked the lawyer what could be done to right this injustice. Nothing. Nothing at all. I distinctly remember the feeling of powerlessness, of helplessness.
Have you ever suffered injustice? Has anyone ever lied about you? Or slandered you?
Maybe it was a boss or co-worker who made up stories or shaped narratives about what happened and did their best to pin the blame on you.
Or it could have been a bully at school who lied about what you said or did just to make the other kids laugh.
Or a judge who failed to properly interpret the law, who chose to believe lies instead of seeking the truth.
Maybe it was a family member who judged your motives unfairly and made faulty assumptions, and those assumptions became the account shared with the rest of the family.
Where do we find help after our character has been assassinated? Who can we look to when injustice seems to reign? What hope do we have when others are smearing us with lies and distortion?
These are the questions facing the psalmist in Psalm 5. The heading tells us it’s a psalm of David, which either means David was the writer or it was written reflecting on situations from David’s life. We don’t know the precise situation, but reading the record of David’s life in 1 and 2 Samuel reveals numerous times David was the subject of a smear campaign. It’s possible this refers to the same time as Psalm 3, when David’s own son lied about him, led a rebellion against him, and chased him out of Jerusalem.
Whatever the situation, this psalm reminds us to trust God when life is unfair and people are unjust. God is: a watchtower for the wronged, a citadel for the scandalized, a fortress for the afflicted, and a shelter for the slandered. When we don’t know where to turn, what to do, or how to fix it. When we’re not sure who to trust, we can trust God. This psalm encourages faith in God when life is falling apart and when foes are attacking our character. Because of who God is, His character and His care for us, we can find shelter when we’re slandered. In this psalm, five facets of God’s character are highlighted which lead us to trust Him completely.
Trust God’s Attentiveness (1-3)
This psalm, like many psalms, begins with prayer. In times of distress and desperation, God’s people turn to Him in prayer, knowing that He hears and answers.
Psalms 5:1-3 (CSB) Listen to my words, Lord; consider my sighing. Pay attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for I pray to you. In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch expectantly.
As we’ll see later in the psalm, the psalmist is under attack. It seems the weapon of attack is primarily words. What does he do when he’s under attack? He doesn’t try to figure out what to do. He turns to God for help. Brothers and sisters, we need to ask before we act. If you’re like me, your mind begins to race whenever you encounter difficulty. Like a general, you pull out the maps and start to plan your assault. How will you attack this problem? We need to learn to ask before we act. Faith is asking when all we want to do is act.
In verse 1, the psalmist asks God to listen to his word and consider his sighing. Sighing could also be translated “groaning or moaning.” It refers to our innermost thoughts and contemplations—the deepest, unspoken longings of our heart. It’s what someone asks when they understand who God really is. He is a God who sees inside us. He sees what no one else can. He knows our hearts better than we know them. His x-ray vision scans the very corners of our soul and understands the hurt and pain we can’t even vocalize.
These requests are based upon the psalmist’s understanding of his own position in relation to God. God is his king (v.2), and kings, good kings, care for the well-being of their people and preserve justice in their kingdom. So the basis of his prayer for help goes like this, “God, I know you are a good and upright king. In your kingdom, truth matters. Justice is cherished. There is injustice happening right now in your kingdom, and I’m bringing it to your attention with confidence that you will intervene.” He approaches God understanding God’s commitment to those under His care.
Even David, who himself was a king, was under a king. Friends, this is a lesson we must learn. Each of us is under authority. No one lives a truly autonomous life. The quest for unlimited freedom is a fool’s errand. You are now and will always be under someone’s authority. This world belongs to someone else, and no matter where you go in it, you’re responsible to the owner.
Students, you are under a number of authorities right now: your parents, teachers, coaches, employers. You may be longing for that day when you are free to make your own choices. Remember that even when you move out of the house, you are still under God’s authority. Total autonomy is a myth. Learn to live in joyful submission to God’s authority over you.
First thing each morning, the psalmist brings his requests to the king and asks him to intervene. It’s the most important thing he does each day, and so he makes it a priority in his day. He does so with confidence that the king will act. When he tells God his requests he’s like a son texting his mom to let her know her first grandchild is on the way. He knows the response will be quick. He’s confident that his mom is waiting by the phone and will respond immediately. Brothers and sisters, the King is our Father, and He answers our call every time. Your call to God never goes unanswered. You have never heard God’s voicemail, have you?
When you’re slandered or mistreated, trust God’s attentiveness. He hears your deepest longings, He cares for you, and He will respond.
Trust God’s Character (4-6)
It’s not any consolation that the king listens to our cry for help if we can’t trust the king to do what’s right. If the king’s door is open, but his court is full of criminals and scoundrels, then no citizen finds comfort in coming to the king.
Psalms 5:4 (CSB) For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil cannot dwell with you.
God doesn’t delight in wickedness. What does He delight in? We know that God loves justice. He delights in truth and righteousness. God would never slander someone on twitter, nor would he gossip behind closed doors. God always does what is right. Righteousness and justice are like robes; every decision he makes is clothed in them.
Because He loves righteousness and hates wickedness, evil cannot dwell with Him. Dwell means to “take up residence.” In other words, God doesn’t throw open His doors and give shelter to those who harm other people and take advantage of them. He doesn’t provide a safe house for those who slaughter the innocent.
Let’s be careful to understand what the psalmist is NOT saying in these verses. He’s not saying God closes the door to sinners. He’s not saying a person has to be sinless for God to welcome them. Later on he calls God a refuge. A refuge for whom? Well He must be a refuge for sinners because that’s all there are. There are no perfectly righteous people. God is a refuge for sinners who come to Him for help. His house is wide open for those who need healing.
The psalmist is not talking about the penitent, about those who repent of their sin. Look at the words he uses in verses 5 and 6:
Psalms 5:5-6 (CSB) The boastful cannot stand in your sight; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who tell lies; the Lord abhors violent and treacherous people.
Again picture a king’s court. Who does the king invite to his table? Who does he surround himself with? Who has access to him? Historically we know that many (maybe most) kings surrounded themselves with the boastful, with liars and cheats, with flatterers and deceivers, with violent henchman. If the king delights in their company, is there any chance that he will rule with justice? Is there any hope that he will be a fortress for the afflicted?
We trust God’s character—He doesn’t delight in wickedness. He doesn’t harbor the violent and bigoted. He doesn’t approve, even tacitly, those who harm and hurt, exhort and endanger the defenseless. His character brings confidence to His people.
Trust God’s Mercy (7)
If we’re not careful, we can see God’s character and think that means He will not let us in, He will not hear our cries, He will not welcome us. But He does. He allows us free access to His house. Not because of our character, but because of His compassion. We are able to bring our cries and complaints not just to the throne, but to the table. Not just to our King, but to our Dad.
Psalms 5:7 (CSB) But I enter your house by the abundance of your faithful love; I bow down toward your holy temple in reverential awe of you.
The King James Version translates “the abundance of your faithful love” as “a multitude of mercies.” I love that picture. Surrounding God’s throne is not a company of henchmen, but a multitude of mercies. For His children, it’s not a throne room designed to keep us at a distance, but to invite us to come closer.
Thomas Goodwin was a Puritan preacher in Oxford, England in the mid 1600’s. He wrote: “God has a multitude of all kinds of mercies…There is no sin or misery but God has a mercy for it.”[i] He pictured God’s mercies in two ways. First, as a shop filled with boxes and boxes of mercies.
If you come in with a hard heart, God has tender mercies.
If you come in spiritually dead, God has reviving mercies.
If you come in sick, God has healing mercies.
If you come in covered in sin, God has cleansing mercies.
Second, he pictures God’s mercies as a garden. He wrote, “All the mercies that are in his own heart he has transplanted into several beds in the garden of the promises, where they grow, he has abundance of variety of them, suited to all the variety of the diseases of the soul.”[ii]
This verse makes me picture God’s multitude of mercies like a retreat center or vacation house. Those who delight in evil aren’t welcome to come, but those who come broken and hurting, humble and desperate are ushered into a room that perfectly fits their need. Some have windows overlooking the sea where those in need of rest are refreshed with the sea breezes. Some have doors that lead to a garden where those who are recuperating can walk in peace. No matter what the condition, there is a room of mercy perfectly outfitted to bring healing and restoration. And at dinner time, all are invited to feast together in the owner’s presence, where His contagious laugh and joy provide the greatest relief.
The heart of Christianity, the gospel message is not that God accepts us because we’re healthy and whole, because we’re holy and pious. The gospel is that God accepts the humble and broken. He is the great physician and His home is a hospital where all can be healed. Have you come to Him for healing? Have you encountered His multitude of mercies? Have you seen the compassion in His eyes? And the love in His heart? If not, come today in humility. Come honest and repentant, and trust that the multitude of His mercy is greater than the multitude of your sins.
Christian, if you are suffering unjustly, you can trust His mercy. Others may reject you because of lies, but He will never cast you out. There’s room for you, and there’s healing too.
Trust God’s Guidance (8)
What should you do when people are lying about you? What should you say? Should you defend yourself? Should you stay silent? In your anger, should you fight back? Is it more spiritual to lie down and accept it? These are tough questions to answer. This is why the Psalmist asks for God’s guidance.
Psalms 5:8 (CSB) Lord, lead me in your righteousness because of my adversaries; make your way straight before me.
When we’re surrounded by enemies—those seeking to hurt and harm us—what normally guides our decision-making? If we’re honest, it’s probably our emotions. Our frustration and pain guides us. Feelings of anger and a desire for vengeance motivate us. The psalmist understands the natural desire for vengeance which leads to sinful decisions, and he doesn’t want to walk down that path. He doesn’t want to repay evil for evil. He doesn’t want to give into a twisted and perverted desire for revenge, so he asks God to lead him in righteousness, to help him walk a straight and true path.
If you’ve been wronged, then you understand how tempting it is to respond to sin against you with sin of your own. I remember the old movie You’ve Got Mail where Meg Ryan’s character complains about never having a mean, cutting response ready when someone insults her. She always thinks of the perfect thing to say when it’s too late. Her email partner (Tom Hanks, who later becomes her love interest) has the opposite problem, and he tells her the vengeful response usually leads to remorse and shame. Later in the movie they meet, and she, not knowing his identity, responds with a perfectly-timed vengeful comeback. He is hurt by what she says, and she is miserable.
We need supernatural guidance to respond to injustice with patience and grace. We need God’s help through His Spirit to respond to hatred and mistreatment with a soft answer. Don’t be surprised and don’t be discouraged if you’re not sure what to say or do when people hurt you, when you’re slandered or wronged. Trust God to guide you to the righteous response, to show you the straight path.
Trust God’s Justice (9-12)
Those who harm, slander, and mistreat others do so through lies and evil schemes. They may seem to get away with it, but they will fail. They will face God’s judgment on their sin.
Psalms 5:9-10 (CSB) For there is nothing reliable in what they say; destruction is within them; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongues. Punish them, God; let them fall by their own schemes. Drive them out because of their many crimes, for they rebel against you.
Brothers and sisters, God judges those who lie and spread lies. We need to hear this. I fear many Christians spread lies on social media. They read an article filled with the latest conspiracy theory, and they pass it on, either with an endorsement or a “makes you think.” Either way spreading something that is false harms other people. We need to be much more vigilant about what we share online. Why are you condemning others, criticizing them, and belittling them? You may disagree with a governor’s policy, even their overall philosophy, but they are still a person made in the image of God. As James writes, “Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way.” James 3:10 (CSB)
The psalmist is confident in God’s justice. Sometimes it’s hard to be confident.
When we see another African-American man killed by those in authority, we wonder about whether justice will ever truly be served.
When churches are closed but abortion providers stay open, we struggle with doubt.
When the rich are exonerated, but the poor are sentenced, we question whether we’ll ever be free from injustice.
I’m sure David questioned the same thing. And Joseph. And Isaiah. And Daniel. And the disciples. And the early church. And our brothers and sisters in China, North Korea, Cuba, and the Middle East.
Justice will come. Do you know how we can be certain justice will come? Because of the cross. If there was ever a chance of God not being just it would have been when His Son was hanging on the cross. If ever He would have overlooked sin and said it was no big deal, if ever He would have ignored injustice, it would have been when Jesus became sin for us. But God is just. He must be just. And He will be just. Justice is coming. Those who rebel against God will face a cost greater than they can bear.
God is just, but He is also merciful. He punishes the rebel, and He welcomes the repentant. Those who oppose Him will be crushed, but those who come to Him for help will be comforted.
Psalms 5:11-12 (CSB) But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them shout for joy forever. May you shelter them, and may those who love your name boast about you. For you, Lord, bless the righteous one; you surround him with favor like a shield.
God has redeemed a people for Himself. He is their refuge, their shelter, and their shield. Because of His care, they shout for joy. The picture is of people waiting outside the courthouse for the verdict. They know the charges are false, but they’re not sure justice will triumph. Someone runs out of the courtroom onto the steps and yells, “Innocent! He’s been found innocent. He’s free.” The crowd reacts by shouting, screaming, laughing, whistling—they jump, grab hands, and hug. They praise the judge and the lawyer for seeing the truth and acting in justice.
When you are unfairly condemned and everyone seems to believe it, remember that you know the Judge and He is just. You have an advocate, and He will defend you. You don’t need to lash out. You don’t need to protect your reputation. You don’t need to make them pay. You can run to God for help and protection, for peace and blessing.
Christ Our Example
The single toughest part of facing slander is the feeling that you’re all alone, that no one understands, that no one takes your side, and even that no one sees the truth. If you know Jesus, you never need to feel this way.
Jesus knows what it feels like to face slander. His own family called Him crazy.
He knows what it feels like to be mistreated—the religious leaders of His nation organized His execution.
He knows what it feels like to be scandalized since He hung on the cross between two common thieves.
And how did He respond to slander, affliction, mistreatment, and scandal? What did Jesus do when others lied about Him and tried to hurt Him?
1 Peter 2:23 (CSB) When he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.
He did what we need to do. He entrusted Himself—His reputation, His future, His vindication—to God who judges justly. He trusted God’s attentiveness, His character, His mercy, His guidance, and His justice. Because Jesus trusted God, we who know Him and have been united with Him by faith can trust Him too.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2020.
[i] In Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 131.
[ii] Ibid., 131-132.